Quickly I find another surprise. The boys are wilder writers — less careful of convention, more willing to leap into the new. I start watching the dozens of vaguely familiar girls, who seem to have shaved off all distinguishing characteristics. They are so careful. Careful about their appearance, what they say and how they say it, how they sit, what they write. Even in the five-minute free writes, they are less willing to go out from where they are — to go out there, where you have to go, to write. They are reluctant to show me rough work, imperfect work, anything I might criticize; they are very careful to write down my instructions word by word.
They’re all trying themselves on day by day, hour by hour, I know — already making choices that will last too unfairly long. I’m surprised to find, after a few days, how invigorating it all is. I pace and plead for reaction, for ideas, for words, and gradually we all relax a little and we make progress. The boys crouch in their too-small desks, giant feet sticking out, and the girls perch on the edge, alert like little groundhogs listening for the patter of coyote feet. I begin to like them a lot.
Then the outlines come in. I am startled at the preoccupation with romance and family in many of these imaginary futures. But the distinction between boys and girls is perfectly, painfully stereotypical. The boys also imagine adventure, crime, inventions, drama. One expects war with China, several get rich and lose it all, one invents a time warp, another resurrects Jesus, another is shot by a robber. Their outlines are heavy on action, light on response. A freshman: “I grow populerity and for the rest of my life I’m a million air.” [sic] A sophomore boy in his middle age: “Amazingly, my first attempt at movie-making won all the year’s Oscars. So did the next two. And my band was a HUGE success. It only followed that I run the country.”
Among the girls, in all the dozens and dozens of girls, the preoccupation with marriage and children is almost everything. They are entirely reaction, marked by caution. One after the other writes of falling in love, getting married, having children and giving up — giving up careers, travel, college, sports, private hopes, to save the marriage, take care of the children. The outlines seem to describe with remarkable precision the quietly desperate and disappointed lives many women live today.